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'What does Jesus do?' Mayor of Bristol defends protests which pulled down Edward Colston statue

by Heather Preston

The Mayor of Bristol has defended protesters who pulled down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston on Sunday.

Marvin Rees told Premier that Jesus gives us a great example of protest and action in his response to the sellers and the money changers in the temple courts.

"What does Jesus do?" he said. "He drives them out, not only that - it's premeditated - he goes away, makes a whip and comes back. So anger is not a problem. Outrage is not a problem. Driving injustice out of our systems is not a problem."

Rees, who is a Christian himself and Europe's first directly elected mayor of African heritage said that while he "can't condone criminal damage", he also cannot pretend that "the statue is anything other than an affront" to him and many others. 

"I think the scale of that feeling shouldn't be ignored," he added.

Demonstrations for racial equality took place in cities across the UK this weekend following the death of George Floyd - a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck.

In Bristol, protesters pulled down a statue of prominent 17th Century slave trader, Edward Colston, before later dumping it into the harbour.



Colston has been a source of controversy in the city for many years as he made the majority of his wealth by assisting the transport of African men, women and children into slavery through the Royal African Company. A statue was erected in his honour 120 years ago as he donated large sums of money to help build schools, churches and homes for the poor in Bristol.

Previous calls have been made to have the statue removed including a petition to replace it with a statue honouring civil rights campaigner Paul Stevenson which received over 15,000 signatures.

Speaking to Premier, Rees also explained his reasons for not having the statue removed himself prior to the Black Lives Matters protests.

He explained that his focus as mayor has been on the immediate needs of his community and this was not high on his priority list.

"I took office in the middle of Brexit, in the middle of austerity, with a housing crisis with horrific levels of inequality in Bristol. I've got to focus on doing stuff that matters, that makes a difference to people's lives here and now. 

"Taking down a statue won't feed people, house people, tackle mental health, domestic violence or any of those issues. So it wasn't at the top of my list of priorities. My priority has been about tackling poverty right here right now."

He added that there were other limitations on him. 

"We have to face the reality that I'm a black man. There's a difference between being a black mayor and a mayor, the same way there's difference between being a well-paid black footballer and a well-paid footballer, a black politician and a politician.

"If I just pitched up out of nowhere and start taking down symbols within Bristol that many people would see as their purchase on the city's narrative and the city's history, you'd be writing a different kind of story.

"I don't have that same latitude for action that other politicians would have, so this is something I'm pushing back quite hard on."

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